Here is a response to Jeremy Keehn (Senior Editor at the Walrus) thoughtful response to my post The Walrus, Fair Dealing, and the Culture of Journalism this morning.
A few leading points.
1) I’d like to echo Jeremy’s request, if there is a literary-loving Web 2.0 billionaire out there interested in endowing the Walrus, please click here.
2) While my original post refers to The Walrus, I definitely want to be clear – the challenge of not participating in the online link economy is endemic among main stream media publishers generally. Most main stream media never link away from their site (except, oddly, on their “blogs” which are somehow treated differently…)
At the risk of misrepresenting Jeremy (not my intention) I’m going to edit his piece down so as to respond to some specific arguments as to why the Walrus doesn’t link or cite in print. Worse still, I may make a suggestion or two.
First, in print:
It was more a question of how including that information would affect the flow of the narrative, and what readers needed to know for the quotation to have its intended effect. Insofar as I was making a conscious decision as an editor, I would have been asking myself whether mentioning eaves.ca bolstered the authority of the quotation or added narrative value. Ultimately, I concluded that David’s credentials were all readers needed to know. In hindsight, I might have chosen otherwise, in part because the quotation wasn’t a spoken one, and in part because this is a rare instance where the source actually ended up caring.
This I completely get. It is important that the piece read easily. Reading this I see how much the web has changed how I read – I look for “links” now even when reading a print edition of something. (Wow it is hard to have this discussion without sounding ungrateful for the quote – hoping that is still coming through – this is a discussion about the culture of journalism as it plays at out that Walrus, not about the quality or intentions of the Walrus)
David also asks in his post why The Walrus hasn’t linked to his blog in the online version of the story. “When The Walrus doesn’t link to others, it is a policy decision,” he writes. “They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website — which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting.”
I (guiltily) jumped to a conclusion there – should have led with more inquiry. Jeremy explains that this is because:
We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources, and because the decisions about what and where to link would be difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially given that we rely on freelance writers, who might have opinions about what should be linked to or not. It’s certainly not policy.
However, this is where things become a little harder for me to decipher.
On the one hand the no-linking at the Walrus seems to be due to limited resources (this I understand and respect). However, tracking down and inserting the links into my blog for the webpages the Walrus piece references took me 45 minutes – and that was without the benefit of having the author on hand who mostly likely has them in their notes. An intern could find and insert the links into a piece in 30 minutes. This may still be too onerous but the benefit to readers feels significant. But this calculus becomes even easier if the Walrus simply asked authors to supply the links (the task would then drop to mere minutes). Moreover, the costs of consistency feel pretty low. People are unlikely to be upset of The Walrus over linking… they’ll just not click on them. Plus, The Walrus’s authors probably have the best sense of what is interesting and should be linked to… why not simply trust them?
On the other hand, the above sentence hints that the no-linking is also due to the fact that getting a clear consistent policy would be difficult – especially with so many freelance writers in play. I read this as saying that The Walrus is claiming it is better off not linking than having potentially inconsistent linking. Why not start simple with bare bones policy: Every time The Walrus quotes someone, and that quotation is available from an original source online, the author should endeavor to link to it. The great thing about being online is different than print. Omissions are easy and quick to fix. If the author misses some link, an intrepid reader may email The Walrus the link (especially if you ask them to) at which point an intern could add it.
There are advantages to this. Over time, by looking at The Walrus’s web stats the editorial staff will see what their readers click on, and so what they find useful and be sure to include more of those types of links in the future. The value add for readers might become significant, At the moment, the Walrus has no idea what its readers find interesting in the pieces they read other than what they say in comments (and far, far fewer people comment than click on links they like).
Finally, this should be applauded but is not a defense:
Two thoughts: First what is the policy around linking on The Walrus blogs? And providing links in Twitter is great (I do like how The Walrus twitter account points to interesting pieces everywhere). The point here is that (online) readers have a world to explore in every article The Walrus publishes – if they are given a chance to explore it through hyperlinks – hyperlinks that are embedded in the text where their mice and eyes are at the moment of reading.